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25 Behavioral Genetics of Dog Cognition: Human-like Social Skills in Dogs Are Heritable and Derived

Brian Hare, Michael Tomasello


Almost everywhere there are people there are dogs, and although many people like dogs, very few behaviorists have found them of much scientific interest. A notable exception is Charles Darwin, who found them exceedingly interesting, and indeed launched On the Origin of Species (Darwin 1859) with a flurry of examples outlining variability in domestic animals, including dogs, since nowhere at the time could evidence for descent with modification be more clearly observed than in familiar domestic species (Ritvo 1998).

Recently, a number of cognitive scientists have begun to find dogs interesting as well (Cooper et al. 2003; Miklosi et al. 2004). The reason is that dogs seem to have some special skills for reading human social and communicative behavior. These skills appear to be more flexible—and possibly more human-like—than those of other animals more closely related to humans phylogenetically, such as chimpanzees. This raises the possibility that convergent evolution has occurred: Both Canis familiaris and Homo sapiens may have evolved some similar (though obviously not identical) social-communicative skills—in both cases adapted for certain kinds of social and communicative interactions with human beings. Cases of convergent evolution potentially provide a unique opportunity for making inferences regarding how heritable traits evolve. If two distantly related species share a similar trait(s), it is possible that this analogous trait(s) arose independently due to a similar evolutionary process. Moreover, it is possible that similar evolutionary processes may have affected similar ontogenetic pathways in order to produce analogous phenotypes. Therefore, if dogs’ social...

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